Lockhart, Texas — about 40 minutes outside Austin — is the self-proclaimed “Barbecue Capital of Texas” and they are probably selling themselves short. Texas tends to be beef-centric, and in general it is unfair to compare the barbecues of different regions; I myself have enjoyed delicious Memphis ribs and Carolina pulled pork from time to time, as often as possible really. Lots of other types out there too, all (at least sometimes) good, all unique. But while it is not really true (as the Kreuz folk say) that good barbecue needs no sauce — and anyway some sauces are great in their own right ; indeed, I had an interesting philosophy-of-barbecue conversation with official blog photographer/barbecue expert/pork-preferrer P last night in which, among other things, he argued that often, in the context of pork, the sauce is the whole point — it seems self-evident that any barbecue so good that it needs no sauce must be very good indeed. And that barbecue lives in Lockhart.
In the beginning (of the 20th Century), God made Kreuz Market, and he saw that it was good, and he ate Kreuz’ beef brisket, and he tasted that it was really really REALLY good, and so Kreuz begat Black’s, and it too was good, and Black’s begat Chisholm Trail, which is probably also good but who can tell when we’re all eating at Kreuz or Black’s. After nearly a half-century, Kreuz Market was bought by Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt, in 1948. After another half-century, in the late 1990s, just as Cain turned on Abel, so Smitty’s heirs turned on each other, and God divided the barbecue from the barbecue: Kreuz Market on the one side, and Smitty’s on the other (more on the Kreuz-Smitty’s history here among other places on the internets).
Smitty’s kept the original building, but Kreuz kept the name, moving a ceremonial original pit ember to a new, much larger barn-like location just down the road. Some locals are loyal to one or the other, depending on who was friends with whom; others just go to Black’s, either because it’s better or some folks just find it easier that way. Mrs. Me and I are Kreuz people; I don’t really know how it happened, but that’s the way it is. I’m sure I would enjoy Smitty’s or Black’s, but the trouble is I only get to Lockhart for about one hour every two years, and I don’t see any point in trying Black’s or Smitty’s or Chisholm Trail when I already know that Kreuz is The Happiest Place on Earth (suck it, Disney).
Kreuz Market is a church of barbecue, looming tall over the parking lot and flat Texas terrain, beckoning one and all to make pilgrimage to the brisket of the gods. Upon entering, there is a dining room to the left, a dining room to the right, and straight ahead, down a long hallway adorned with photos of adoring Kreuz fans (Dennis Hopper!), rises the gate of heaven: the doorway to the barbecue pit. The gate is preceded by a sink, that one might be clean before the barbecue lord. The pit (indeed the entire building) has only been there for a dozen years, but the ember goes back decades, and some of the pit masters and meat carvers have been there for decades too; the dude with the huge mutton-chop sideburns has been there on each of our visits over ten years and I bet he’s been at Kreuz much longer than that. They’ve done a great job creating a throwback, 1940s-50s environment.
Order by the pound: brisket, chops, ribs, even prime rib if you get there early enough, which we did this time and Mrs. Me can now vouch for the prime rib; or order a variety of sausages by the link. It’s all good, I’ve tried most of it once, and though some swear by the pork chop, I am all about the brisket. They used to offer a choice of regular or “fatty” brisket (I’m not imagining that am I?), but now it’s just “brisket” and it is plenty fatty, just the right amount; it spends enough time in the pit so the fat mostly renders down to crisp black deliciousness, becoming distilled, concentrated salty-smoky-savory bursts of umami. Incredible flavor. The meaty part of the brisket is wonderful too, pale pink and juicy inside, rimmed by a darker pink smoke ring. Like mutton-chop man says, Kreuz brisket needs no sauce. It is the perfect food. At least I think it is, although I have never tried it with bacon, or bacon-wrapped and deep-fried, so there may yet be room for improvement. Kreuz doesn’t sell bacon — maybe I will suggest that next time.
I always order the baked beans as a side, not because I need the extra calories, but because they are good in their own right, and provide a tangy counterpoint to the smoky barbecue, plus all it takes is one bite of beans, no matter how good they are, to make me want to take another bite of brisket. SO GOOD. Washes down well with a cold Lone Star, or a Diet Coke in a pinch. Texas is by and large a Coke state, not Pepsi, just another added bonus.
Pilgrimage complete, we waddled to the car and drove back to whatever less happy place we came from, we didn’t even really remember at that point, thank goodness for GPS; we were able to relax and enjoy our Kreuz coma. It’s just as well we don’t live in Austin or even Houston, between Kreuz and Tex-Mex I wouldn’t last long (but would die happy — obese and congealed, but happy).